The Guide to 1st Grade

Review general curricula for first grade, learn what to expect for each subject, and discover the books and activities you can use at home to support learning in the classroom.
By Shira Ackerman & Kelsey Kloss
Feb 20, 2019



The Guide to 1st Grade

Feb 20, 2019

It feels like you were just buying your child’s first picture books, and already, it’s time for her to start 1st grade. (Need a tissue? It’s OK, we’ve been there.) But let’s be honest: Kids aren’t the only ones who get nervous about a new school year! That’s why we’ve created this 1st Grade Guide to make the leap easier than ever. Here, you’ll find all of the resources you need for a successful school year, so you can spend less time researching and more time learning with your little one — and, naturally, planning that cute first-day-of-school snapshot.

First grade is packed with important and exciting transitions as children leave behind much of the play of preschool and kindergarten, and begin to develop more academic skills. The 1st grade classroom is usually organized more like a traditional elementary school classroom, with tables and desks for students to spend most of their time at.

Your child will also go through a significant transition to more extensive learning. As your child adjusts, she may get tired at the end of the day or have trouble focusing as the day progresses — that’s normal! Just check with your child’s teacher on her progress, and work together to develop strategies if she is having trouble adjusting, especially at the beginning of the year.

Most importantly, prime your child for success by continuing the learning process at home with enriching books and activities that support what she’s learning in school. When your first grader spends time learning new skills with you, it not only makes that time more valuable to her, but also helps her reach the milestones expected of her at this age. Here is everything you need to know about the exciting year of 1st grade, and the materials that will help your child shine as star student.

Reading: 1st Grade

Building reading skills is an essential part of a first grader’s learning process and academic success down the road. Even when students are not specifically learning “reading,” they are constantly using this skill to learn other subjects—which is why it’s crucial for your child’s success in all subjects. As first graders develop their reading comprehension, they will talk more about certain topics and gain a deeper understanding of what they read. 

To build his reading skills, your first grader:

  • Recognizes the features of a sentence (for example: first words, capitalization, and ending punctuation).
  • Recognizes the spelling and sound of two letters that represent one sound, such as th, ch, wh (these are also known as digraphs).
  • Learns to read regularly spelled one-syllable words.
  • Understands how an “e” at the end of a word changes a vowel within the word.
  • Breaks up longer words into syllables in order to read them.
  • Reads grade-level words that have “irregular” spellings.
  • Knows the difference between and reads fiction texts (such as Mouse & Lion) and non-fiction texts (like Leo, the Snow Leopard) with purpose and an understanding of the plot and important ideas and characters.
  • Talks about and answers questions about the text he reads.
  • Reads texts aloud at an appropriate speed and with expression.
  • Compares different characters, events, or texts.
  • Understands the purpose of and uses common features in a book, such as headings, tables of contents, and glossaries.
  • Begins to read grade-appropriate poetry (such as No Fair! No Fair! And Other Jolly Poems of Childhood) and identifies words and phrases that relate to emotions and the senses.

Your 1st Grade Book Checklist for Reading:

1. Reading & Math Jumbo Workbook Grade 1  This incredibly fun collection of teacher-approved activities is designed to meet your first grader's educational needs with more than 300 pages of skill-building exercises, including practice in the alphabet, phonics, spelling, handwriting, numbers, shapes, and much more. 

2. The Frog and the Toad Collection — This well-known series will help your first grader transition to longer-form books. It’s often used to teach children how to talk about character and plot, all while they enjoy the humorous stories about an unlikely friendship between two very different animals.

3. Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China — Your first grader will be captivated by this variation of “Red Riding Hood,” filled with mystery, suspense, and vibrant illustrations. It’s a valuable opportunity for young students to learn how to compare different variations of the same story — and to gain insight into a culture that might be different from their own.

4. The Giving Tree — The widely loved story about a tree that gives all that she has to the person she loves will be a staple in your first grader’s book collection, now and for years to come. A tale of generosity and self-sacrifice, this famous parable helps children move from short storybooks to longer blocks of text.

5. Stink and the Attack of the Slime Mold — First graders discover just how exciting reading is with this slimy, freaky, stinky, and super-funny homage to an oozy-goozy organism! A cross between vintage horror flicks and classic “Star Trek” episodes, this story includes factoids and comics at the end of each chapter to keep beginner readers engaged.

6. Time Jumper — Aimed at newly independent readers, this exciting story about jumping back in time to King Arthur’s castle features easy-to-read text, a fast-paced plot, and illustrations on every page to cater to your first grader’s growing reading comprehension.

Bonus Reading Activities

Put on a Show: Read a favorite story or poem out loud as though it’s a play, using different voices for the character and the narrator to help your child practice his pacing and expression. Your child can also read a dramatic book (like Missy’s Super Duper Royal Deluxe #3: School Play) to you!

Read and Draw: Ask your child to draw a picture of his favorite scene, character, or page from a book. He can then write a description of what he drew and why he chose to draw it.

Become Poets: Read small and simple poems together and talk about the feelings they convey. Next, try writing your own poems together about objects, people you know, or anything else you like!

Word Games: Use magnetic letters, letter tiles (like Kubkid Alphabet Blocks), or cards from games to create both real and silly words. Practice building longer words by combining shorter words and sounds.

Create Your Own Dictionary: As your child learns to read new words and understand the meaning of those words, keep track of them in your own personal dictionary. Your child can write them down, draw a picture to illustrate the word or its definition, or write a sentence using the word. 

Writing: 1st Grade

Once your child has mastered writing letters and begins to improve her spelling skills, she can begin to write longer pieces in a variety of genres. First grade is that magical time in which your child progresses from simply writing words to becoming a “writer,” and her spelling skills will improve in the meantime. Students also begin to use technology in 1st grade, specifically for writing and research. You can help by using the Internet and other technology at home with your child in an appropriate and supervised manner.

As with reading, your child will use writing throughout the day in a variety of subjects. For example, students may write about a math problem, explaining how they solved it, or write about a topic they learned in science or social studies. All of this work makes her a better writer—and learner—overall.

To build her writing skills, your first grader:

  • Writes a variety of texts including, opinion pieces, narratives, and explanatory/informational pieces.
  • Writes with structure, including an introductory sentence, supporting or accurate details, and some sense of closure.
  • Begins to use digital tools, including computers, to practice and “publish” writing.
  • Gathers information as a class, with the aid of a teacher, to answer a question or create a shared research or writing project.

Your 1st Grade Book Checklist for Writing:

1. Scholastic Success With Writing: Grade 1 — The fun activities in this workbook are designed based on state standards for 1st grade readers, providing your child with the targeted, skill-building practice they need to excel in writing descriptive, clear sentences and identifying story parts.

2. Scholastic Learning Express Level 1: Grammar and Writing — Just like you need to know the rules to play a game, you must know the rules of grammar to become a successful writer. This collection of teacher-approved activities focuses on identifying different types of sentences, punctuating sentences, and writing and building stories, and comes with additional online resources and reward stickers.

3. Scholastic Study Smart Writing Skills Builder Level 1 — Mini projects in this book consolidate your first grader’s learning as she learns to identify sentence structures and add information to sentences—making it a great option to pair with the two workbooks listed above.

4. Scholastic Reader Level 1: Please Write Back! — Teach your first grader the joys writing skills can bring with this adorable story about Alfie, an alligator who writes a letter to Grandma all by himself. He addresses the letter, stamps it, and mails it — but will she write back? This story shows how being a good writer can connect us with those we love and the world around us. 

5. Diary of a Fly — Writing can also give us the special opportunity to reflect on our day and feelings. In this book, your first grader enters the diary of a fly, who wants to be a superhero and who has 327 brothers and sisters who drive her crazy! As a result, your child will learn about diary writing, which may encourage her to start her own journal (ahem: extra writing practice!).

Bonus Writing Activities

Write Your Own Stories: After your child experiences an important moment or event, ask her to write about it and illustrate it as though it is a story — and if she’d like, she can then share it with your family and friends!

Answer a Question: When your child asks a question, research the answer together using books like the Scholastic Children’s Dictionary or computers (under your supervision). Then, work together to craft an informative poster or collage with the question and the answer, using both text and pictures to show what you learned.

Make a Family Magazine or Book: Task your first grader with illustrating a book using drawings and text to describe different family members or friends. Each person can have their very own page!

Write Cards and Letters for Special Events: On birthdays and holidays, help your child send letters or cards that she writes for family and friends. Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School might serve as hilarious inspiration!

Math: 1st Grade

Students continue to develop their addition and subtraction skills in 1st grade, and in many classes, math tools and manipulatives such as blocks, tiles, and different shapes are used to help students practice using concrete, visible objects. This helps students truly understand the concepts underlying the math they learn. What’s more, students in 1st grade may begin to write about the math they do, answering questions about how they solve problems and understand certain processes.

To build his math skills, your first grader:

  • Adds and subtracts numbers 1-20, solves word problems by using objects, drawings, and traditional equations (with the plus and minus signs).
  • Adds three numbers that add to a number up to 20.
  • Solves addition and subtraction problems by adding up or subtracting smaller numbers, for example: 10+4 = 10+2+2 and 15-6 = 15-2-2-2.
  • Learns the relationship between addition and subtraction, for example: 2+3=5 and 5-3=2.
  • Counts out and groups objects in order to solve single digit addition and subtraction problems.
  • Counts and writes the numbers 1 to 120, starting from any number less than 120.
  • Understands and creates numbers using 10 as a base, for example: 12 = one 10 and two 1’s.
  • Compares two 2 digit numbers using the <, >, and = signs.
  • Adds up to 100 using objects and the concept of 10’s.
  • Subtracts or adds 10 to a 2-digit number in his mind, without counting, and subtracts by 10 from numbers 1-90, using concrete objects or tools.
  • Orders three objects by length.
  • Begins to tell and write time using both digital and analog clocks (Learn to Tell Time! Owly Clock is a good tool for practicing).
  • Understands data; specifically, the total number of data points, how many are in each category, and how many more or less there are in a category.
  • Understands the definition of and difference between shapes and creates shapes using this knowledge (Learning Mats: Patterns will help with this!).
  • Creates 2 and 3 dimensional shapes.
  • Breaks up circles and rectangles into two and four equal parts, and understands that the parts are halves, fourths, and quarters, and that smaller parts make up larger ones.

Your 1st Grade Book Checklist for Math:

1. Scholastic Success With Math: Grade 1 — Numbers become all the more fun with math activities set to the scene of alligator teeth or flower pots! Each practice page reinforces a set of 1st grade skills outlined in standardized tests, and is invaluable practice for math skills such as reasoning and logic, time and money, story problems and equations, and much more.

2. Write On/Wipe Off Time & Money — Your first grader gets ample opportunities to practice real-life math skills, such as telling time and counting coins, in this fun workbook. Bonus: It comes with a mini flip chart and pen to make learning interactive and engaging for your little mathematician.

3. Morning Jumpstarts: Math: Grade 1 — Use this book to prepare your child for standardized tests and your state’s core standards for math in 1st grade. With 100 fun practice pages, your child will practice logic and critical thinking, computation and fluency, interpreting data, and more to lay a foundation for years of academic success in math.

4. Math Curse  — When one teacher tells the class that almost anything can be thought of as a math problem, one student begins to realize that math is all around her. You have 10 things to do, but only 30 minutes until the bus arrives — can you finish it all? You have 3 pairs of pants and two shirts, so you can you make one good outfit? Formulas and fun abound in this in this hilarious and eye-opening story.

5. Bear Counts — This simple read for your first grader will emphasize the delight of numbers, as it reinforces the counting skills he learned in kindergarten with charming illustrations and lovable characters.>

Bonus Math Activities

Add It Up and Shop: When you are in the store together, ask your child to add together different items. For instance: How many fruits did you buy? How many boxes of bananas are there? How many different types of soups are there?

Greater or Less Than?: Make three cards, one with the < sign, one with the > sign, and one with the = sign. Play a game by placing pieces of paper with specific numbers on a table. Ask your child to put the correct sign between the numbers as quickly as possible, seeing how many rounds he can get correct in a certain amount of time. Track how many your child got right, and encourage him to try to beat his record the next time you play.

Build Things: Use blocks or other building toys to construct houses, towers, vehicles, etc. As you build, count pieces by tens, add and subtract pieces, and pay attention to the different shapes you use.

Take a Poll: Ask family members a question and create a graph of the answers using numbers and pictures, then ask your child questions about the different “data” you collected.

Order Up: Compare the sizes of different objects. Ask your child which object is larger, smaller, and smallest, or ask him to put some of his toys in order by size. Time him to see how fast he can do this!

Set the Table: Setting the table for meal offers plenty of opportunities to practice math. Ask your child to add up the total numbers of utensils, plates, chairs, etc., as she helps to set the table.

Science: 1st Grade

Your child spends her time exploring and experimenting in 1st grade. Students are taught to observe, ask questions, and record their observations and answers. Science lessons often overlap with math and literacy as teachers use books, graphs, and measurement to help students learn. Since specific science topics taught in a 1st grade class vary across schools, find out which specific science topics your child will be learning about and find ways to explore these topics at home.

To build her science skills, your first grader:

  • Explores and experiments with the world around her and with objects provided by the teacher.
  • Learns new facts about a variety of topics including the human body, ocean and sea life, animals, measurement, electricity and magnetism, sound, and matter (the difference between solids, gases and liquids).
  • Makes observations and records what she sees and learns using graphs, pictures, and words.

Your 1st Grade Book Checklist for Science

1. LEGO Nonfiction: Big Book of Animals — Science gets extra cuddly in this book filled with fun facts about the world’s fascinating creatures. LEGO mini figures and their trademark antics and humor — plus vignettes, mini comic strips, and infographics — will spark your child’s interest in science.

2. The Ultimate Book of Space — This fact-filled and action-packed glimpse at the universe comes with 40 flaps, pop-ups, pull tabs, and movable parts for hands-on exploration of our universe, space travel, the solar system, and the Earth’s place in it all.

3. Body Works: My Messy Body — Sometimes the body is just, well, plain yucky — which is one of the many things that make it so fascinating! Give your child an introduction to human biology with this entertaining book that teaches why puss, vomit, and snot (plus much more!) are sometimes good for us.

4. Living Sunlight: How Plants Bring the Earth to Life — In this stunning, poetic exploration of the universal force within us all, first graders will learn how light from the sun is transformed into energy on Earth, and eventually becomes us.

5. Ada Twist, Scientist — Ada has a boundless imagination and is curious about everything: Why are pointy things attached to roses? Why are there hairs inside your nose? This dynamic book teaches the importance of never giving up, all while showing the satisfaction in investigating head-scratching mysteries.

Bonus Science Activities

Experiment with Water: Put different objects in water and see what floats and sinks, heat water up and show your child what happens when it boils, and put cups of water in the freezer and refrigerator and compare what happens. Make ice cubes out of water and then watch them melt, focusing on how different matter can change from one state/phase to another. Ask your child what she thinks will occur before you do each of these things, and talk about what she learns. 

Observe Your World: Observe things around you — your pet, a rainstorm, a bug outside, or anything else in nature. Together, write down and draw pictures of what you notice. Use this to further your child’s fascination with science. Ask her what else she wants to learn about a topic, then read books or look up facts online about that topic. Try to find answers to your child’s questions.

Use Your Senses: Help your child use her senses! Have her put on a blindfold and taste, touch, and smell different objects, asking her to guess what the object is or talk about how it tastes, feels, and smells. 

Social Studies: 1st Grade

The specific social studies topics studied in 1st grade classrooms typically vary according to state standards. Different states may focus on their own history, geography, and communities, as well as slightly vary the focus of their learning. However, in most 1st grade classrooms, students begin to explore their communities and the world around them more deeply, enhancing their research skills, general knowledge of the world around them, and ability to compare and contrast different groups. This is done in a variety of ways through group projects, group research, read-alouds, class trips, and exploratory activities. In addition, first graders continue to have class meetings where they learn about the calendar and discuss class events. In the United States, American holidays are also studied.

To build his social studies skills, your first grader:

  • Learns and talks about his own family, different types of families in the present and in history, and his community.
  • Uses and studies maps to locate his own community as well as others.
  • Develops communication and conversation skills.
  • Creates both group and individual work to represent what he has learned, using writing, illustrations, and graphic organizers such as Venn diagrams and T-charts.
  • Begins to explore the role of technology and media.
  • Gains an understanding of the importance of rules, democracy, and citizenship (these Good Citizen Flash Cards are a great tool for this!) in the classroom and in his community.
  • Learns about American holidays and important events and days.

Your 1st Grade Book Checklist for Social Studies:

1. The Paperboy — Teach your child about responsibility, hard work, and the different roles we each play in our community with this timeless, evocative story about a paperboy and his dog who leave their warm bed every morning to deliver newspapers.

2. Fly Guy Presents: The White House — Take a field trip to the nation’s capitol with Fly Guy and Buzz! Your child will learn about how the White House operates in this humorous, engaging book that brings nonfiction to life.

3. This Is the Way We Go to School — In New York, some children take the ferry to school. In Italy, a vaporetto! And in San Francisco, a trolley car. With its fun-filled rhymes and colorful illustrations, this book teaches your child about the beautiful diversity of our world and how other communities might do things a little differently from her own.

4. Mango, Abuela, and Me — When Mia’s grandmother comes to live with her family in the city, she discovers that they have different ways of communicating — her grandmother speaks Spanish, while Mia speaks English. They teach each other new words, and soon Mia finds a parrot in the pet-shop that has the perfect idea to help them communicate in this endearing, award-winning book about learning, love, and patience. 

5. Clifford Big Red Reader: Clifford for President — Birdwell Island dog park needs a new president, and Clifford wants the job… but so does Mac! Emily Elizabeth and Clifford go on an unforgettable, fun-packed adventure that teaches children how elections work.

Bonus Social Studies Activities

Make the Rules Together: Talk about the rules in your house and write them down together. Talk about why you have the rules and ask your child if he would like to change, add, or make new rules.

Make a Community Collage: Ask relatives or friends who live in different places to send you newspapers, magazines, or pictures of their communities. Talk with your child about the similarities and differences between other communities and your own. You can even make a poster that compares the two, showing what’s different and what's the same.

Find a Pen Pal: If you know of another child who lives somewhere else, coordinate with a parent to set your children up as pen pals, using technology when possible. Your child can use email, letters, pictures, and video calling to communicate — all under your supervision. Have the children send pictures of their communities to each other.

Make a Map of People You Know: Take either an international or national map (or use a book like the National Geographic Kids World Atlas) and mark the places where other family members or friends live. Talk about the place each person lives and the distance between their town and yours.

Continue the Fun Through Play!

Sharpen your first grader’s skills further by integrating learning with these exciting activities.

Pretend and Play Calculator Cash Register — Help your first grader finesse her math and number skills with a fun cashier that lends itself to hours of imaginative play. This register features a solar-powered calculator with big numbers for little hands, pretend bills and coins, a pretend credit card, and an activity guide.

Learning Mats: Match, Trace & Write: Numbers — Math literacy will come naturally to your first grader when she practices with this fun mat and tile set, which helps children practice key math skills like counting, performing simple addition and subtraction, and much more.

The Magic School Bus Back in Time with the Dinosaurs Science Kit — This set of marvelous experiments will take your child on a wild ride back in time! She’ll build a wooden dinosaur replica, make cast and mold fossils, simulate a dino dig, and embark on many other exciting tasks designed to spark curiosity and a love for science.

Create Your Own 3 Bitty Books — Your first grader is the author and illustrator of her own tiny tales in this activity set, which encourages storytelling and the skills it requires—including creative problem solving, plot development, linear thinking, attention span, writing, small motor skills, and creativity.

Ingenio North America Map Puzzle - Bilingual — Share an appreciation for geography with your first grader with this colorful, informative puzzle. With 48 large and easy-to-grab pieces, it shows all U.S. states and Mexican states, and stretches out to be more than six square feet when fully assembled! 

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